The notorious Mexican masters of Electro-Pop carry their heavy cred across the globe.
Words by Kristie Bertucci.
The 2012 Summer Olympics are fast approaching and Mexican electro-pop trio Belanova are super excited about their recent partnership with Coca Cola. A huge achievement in the band’s 12-year career, Belanova is set to sing the Olympic anthem, in addition to appearing in various promotional campaigns released by the brand powerhouse. One of which is “Move To The Beat,” a song originally written by super producer Mark Ronson, that the electro poppers will be readapting for a special Coke commercial that will be distributed throughout Latin America.
“It’s a great accomplishment and provides great personal satisfaction to be picked from many other groups,” says Ricardo “Richie” Arreloa, who is the band’s bassist and guitarist. “Plus working with a person like Ronson, who we admire tremendously as a composer and producer, is amazing! This means that people who’ve never heard of us will [finally] get to listen to our music.”
“Doing something for the Olympics is a whole other level for us,” chimes in Belanova’s vocalist, Denise Guerrero. “It’s like a dream come true. I think music and sports are similar, in that they require passion and feelings to communicate, so it’s a great combination.”
For Denise, Richie and fellow band member and keyboardist Edgar Huerta, this is just one of year’s highlights, having kicked off their highly anticipated US tour back in April for their fifth album, Sueño Electro II, which was released late last year. In the midst of it all, the trio is already working on their next studio album.
“We have about 20-25 tracks right now,” Denise says, adding that they’re is still in the creative process at the moment. “The only thing I can tell you is that we want to make people dance. We’re in that kind of mood right now, so all the songs will reflect that vibe. We haven’t decided on where to go musically in terms of our sound, but just expect stuff that’s influenced from the ’80s and ’90s that will really make you dance.”
Another huge influence on the band is Mexico’s own Nortec scene, which for the layman, is an electronic music movement birthed in Tijuana that features hard dance beats and samples from traditional music from the region (See MTV Iggy’s extended coverage of Mexico’s electronic scene here). Denise admits, “I know a lot of the guys in that scene like Ramón Amezcua from Bostich and would love to have him do a Belanova remix for us!”
But wanting to make people dance isn’t something new for one of Mexico’s most talented and revered bands, who have kept their fans shimmering across dance floors in Latin America since the band’s inception in 2000. They formed Belanova taking the Italian word “bella” for beautiful, and “nova” for its definition of being the brightest time in a star’s life to create their moniker, tells Denise. They band became official after uniting in Guadalajara, Mexico; when Denise met Edgar in college, who later introduced her to Richie, whom the latter knew from playing at local clubs.
With Edgar’s electronic background coupled with Richie’s guitar skills, and then laced with Denise’s girly vocals, Belanova provides a unique combination that is reminiscent of indie electro bands like CSS and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, just not as grimy. But it’s their Latin spin that really sets them above the rest, not including their electric style that often consists of neon outfits, retro shades and hipster-like assembles that reflect their eclectic palette.
“From the beginning, the idea was to make electronic music because we all liked the genre and were influenced by Daft Punk, Depeche Mode, Bjork, Portishead and Moloko,” Richie describes. “When we started the band, electronic music had a lot of ‘boom’ to it. Besides, we played bass, keyboards and vocals, and the best way to complete the sound was with a computer, so it was only a natural beginning to our musical career.”
The result was a hybrid sound in Spanish popular music that fused together pop, electronic and Latin elements, which they showcased on their debut album Cocktail in 2003. With the help of their enthusiastic live shows, plus the fact that their first single off their “Tus Ojos” (Your Eyes) album was used in a Mexican Mitsubishi commercial—without the band’s consent or knowledge prior to— the album quickly rose to become one of the top five albums of the year by Rolling Stone Mexico, and the track reached number five on the Mexican music charts. Performance and appearance requests by local music shows followed, as did consistent rotation on MTV Latinamérica and numerous awards in their version of the MTV Music Awards, too.
By their second album Dulce Beat in 2005, Belanova had emerged as one of the top groups in Latin America, and have since seen non-stop success. Some may attribute it to their quirky original tracks that appeal not only to traditional Latin American markets, but also to a breed of first-gener’s (the Latinos living abroad) who listen to both Spanish and English music. “We listen to a lot of stuff in English, so it’s not something we chose to have in our music, but rather something that just comes natural to us,” Denise describes. “We’re not doing it to appeal more to an English-speaking market, but do it ’cause we just like it. Who knows, we might someday come out with an all-English album, too. It’s not something we’re opposed to, but if it happens, it happens.”
When they did make their transition onto an international stage in 2007 with their third album, Fantasia Pop, Belanova was more than ready to embrace a growing fan base. The album was released simultaneously in Mexico and the States.
“We weren’t nervous about the big push in the States,” Denise confesses. “We just wanted to grow as artists, and that was the next big step. We’re always about improving ourselves and our music, with everything else being trivial or just part of the job.”
And their passion paid off, winning them a Latin Grammy for “Best Pop Album by a Group or Duo”. It fueled their experimental approach, and decidedly, they began to incorporate more genres outside of their usual electro-pop tunes, as well as traditional sounds from their native Mexico like ranchera, banda and mariachi.
“As the years, pass, your mind opens up more and you have this feeling to want to experiment with other sounds. That’s what happened with our last two albums, Sueño Electro I and II,” Denise conveys. ”We just always let the music flow and take us in the direction it wants to. Music is in the air and you have to just take it and be perceptive about it. You can’t really do anything about it; just keep doing what you’re doing and the songs will come is how I think about it all. Who knows what kind of music we’re be creating five years from now?”
Chiming in, Richie expands: “We tend to experiment with various rhythms, and for that particular moment, we wanted to experiment with a Mexican genre and fuse it into our core Belanova sound thus the Bolero Ranchero track “Hasta El Final” or “Mirame” that we did with a Bossa Nova beat. It wasn’t something that was forced either, but rather something very organic and refreshing. We basically just focus on the musicality of a song, which can uplift it to new heights and avoid any fads because we make sure we always do us first.”
While Belanova may be veterans in the music scene, they’re still considered to be an underground musical phenomenon due to the band’s focus on the creative aspects of their enterprise. They’re more into their music and are looking forward to expanding their horizons. “We strive to work harder and reach more countries that do not know our music,” Richie explains. “We basically look at it as if we were starting from scratch, and this [partnership with Coca Cola] is one of those opportunities for us. But in the end, we’re going to keep on pushing our music out there so that we leave behind a legacy that defines us as ‘artists of significance.’”
For Denise, all the accolades in the world can’t define her overall career with Belanova. “I feel great whenever I see my Grammy and wouldn’t mind more, but it doesn’t mean I’ve achieved anything in this industry,” she says. “I’m still very critical of myself, and I’m not completely satisfied with my recordings or performances sometimes. So for me, the greatest achievement is to have a career with longevity where you keep going and get better as time goes on. But the ultimate feeling of achievement is looking out at your fans at a concert and seeing them sing along to your songs. That’s why I’m here.”